This lecture, lecture 8 of 12 in the lecture series Man and the World of Stars.
23 December 1922, Dornach
Translated by D. S. Osmond
The Christmas festival can be the occasion for comparing the Mystery upon which it is based with Mysteries that were the outcome of different conditions in the evolution of humanity. The Christmas Mystery — when it is conceived as a Mystery — belongs paramountly to Winter. It arose from conceptions of the spiritual world that had primarily to do with the link established between man and the scene of his life on Earth at the beginning of Winter.
When we turn our attention to Mysteries that were celebrated in certain parts of Asia long before the founding of Christianity and in which many sublime cosmic thoughts were given expression, or when we compare the Christmas festival with Mysteries that were celebrated also in pre-Christian times, in Middle, Northern and Western Europe, we are struck by the fact that they were preeminently Summer Mysteries, connected with the union between man and all that takes place in earthly life during the time of Summer. To understand the essential meaning of these Mysteries we must think, first of all, of that part of the evolution of humanity which preceded the Mystery of Golgotha.
Looking back into very ancient times we find that the Mysteries were institutions of men still possessed of the faculty of instinctive clairvoyance. In certain states of consciousness between those of full sleep and waking, in states where dreams were expressions of reality, the men belonging to that ancient humanity were still able to gaze into the spiritual worlds whence the human being descends into his physical body on the Earth. Every human being in those times could speak and think about the spiritual worlds, just as a man today can speak about the ordinary knowledge he has learnt at school. I have, as you know, often said that what the men of those olden times beheld of the spiritual-super-sensible world presented itself to them in pictures — not the pictures of dreams but somewhat resembling them. Whereas we know quite well that the pictures in our dreams are woven from our reminiscences, that they rise up from the organism and, unlike our thoughts, do not mirror reality, through the very nature of the Imaginations of the old clairvoyance men knew that they were the expressions — not, it is true, of any external, material reality nor of any historical reality, but of a spiritual world lying hidden behind the physical world. Thus the spiritual world was revealed to men in pictures.
But it must not be imagined that those men of an earlier epoch had no thoughts. They had thoughts, but they did not acquire them as man acquires his thoughts today. If a man of the modern age is to have thoughts, he must exert himself inwardly; he must elaborate his thoughts by dint of inner effort. A similar kind of activity was, it is true, exercised by the men of old in connection with the pictures which mirrored for them a spiritual form of existence; but the thoughts came with the pictures. One may well be amazed at the power and brilliance of the thoughts of that old humanity; but the thoughts were not formulated by dint of effort; they were received as revelations.
Now just as we today have schools and colleges, so in those times there were Mysteries-institutions in which science art and religion were undivided. No distinction was made between belief and knowledge. Knowledge came in the form of pictures; but belief was based securely on knowledge. Nor was any distinction made between what men fashioned out of various materials into works of art, and what they acquired as wisdom. Today the distinction is made by saying: What man acquires in the form of wisdom must be true; but what he embodies in his materials as a painter, sculptor, or musician — that is fantasy!
Goethe was really the last survivor of those who did not hold this view. He regarded as truth both what he embodied in his materials as an artist and what he took to be science. The philistinism expression in the distinction between the artistic and the scientific did not, in fact, appear until comparatively late, indeed after Goethe's time. Goethe was still able, when he saw the works of art in Italy, to utter the beautiful words: “I have the idea that in the creation of their works of art the Greeks proceeded by the same laws by which Nature herself creates and of which I am on the track.” In Weimar, before going to Italy, he and Herder had studied the philosophy of Spinoza together. Goethe had striven to deepen his realization that all the beings in man's environment are permeated by the divine-spiritual He also tried to discover the manifestations of this divine-spiritual in details, for example in the leaf and flower of the plant. And the way in which he built up for himself a picture of the plant-form and animal-form in his botanical and zoological studies was identical as an activity of soul with the procedure he adopted in his artistic creations.
Today it is considered unscientific to speak of one and the same truth in art, in science and in religion. But as I have said, in those ancient centres of learning and culture, art, science and religion were one. It was actually the leaders in these Mysteries who began gradually to separate out particular thoughts from those that were revealed to men with their instinctive clairvoyance and to establish a wisdom composed of thoughts. On all sides we see a wisdom composed of thoughts emerging in the Mysteries from clairvoyant vision. Whereas the majority of men were content with pictorial vision, were satisfied to have the revelation of this spiritual vision presented to them in the form of myths, fairy-tales and legends by those who were capable of doing so, the leaders of the Mysteries were working at the development of a wisdom composed of thoughts. But they were fully aware that this wisdom was revealed, not acquired by man's own powers.
We must try to transport ourselves into this quite different attitude of soul. I will put it in the following way. — When the man of today conceives a thought, he ascribes it to his own activity of thinking. He forms chains of thoughts in accordance with rules of logic — which are themselves the product of his own thinking. The man of olden times received the thoughts. He paid no heed at all to how the connections between thoughts should be formulated, for they came to him as revelations. But this meant that he did not live in his thoughts in the way we live in ours. We regard our thoughts as the possession of our soul; we know that we have worked to acquire them. They have, as it were, been born from our own life of soul, they have arisen out of ourselves, and we regard them as our property. The man of olden time could not regard his thoughts in this way. They were illuminations; they had come to him together with the pictures. And this gave rise to a very definite feeling and attitude towards the wisdom-filled thoughts. Man said to himself as he contemplated his thoughts: “A divine Being from a higher world has descended into me. I partake of the thoughts which in reality other Beings are thinking — Beings who are higher than man but who inspire me, who live in me, who give me these thoughts. I can therefore only regard the thoughts as having been vouchsafed to me by Grace from above.” It was because the man of old held this view that he felt the need at certain seasons to make an offering of these thoughts to the higher Beings, as it were through his feelings. And this was done in the Summer Mysteries.
In the Summer the Earth is more given up to its own environment, to the atmosphere surrounding it. It has not contracted because of the cold or enveloped itself in a raiment of snow; it is in perpetual intercourse with its atmospheric environment. Hence man too is given up to the wide cosmic expanse. In the Summer he feels himself united with the Upper Gods. And in those ancient times man waited for the Midsummer season — the time when the Sun is at the zenith of its power — in order at this season and in certain places he regarded as sacred, to establish contact with the Upper Gods. He availed himself of his natural connection in Summer with the whole etheric environment, in order out of his deepest feelings to make a sacrificial offering to the Gods who had revealed their thoughts to him.
The teachers in the Mysteries spoke to their pupils somewhat as follows. They said: “Every year at Midsummer, a solemn offering must be made to the Upper Gods in gratitude for the thoughts they vouchsafe to man. For if this is not done it is all too easy for the Luciferic powers to invade man's thinking and he is then permeated by these powers. He can avoid this if every Summer he is mindful of how the Upper Gods have given him these thoughts and at the Midsummer season lets his thoughts flow back again, as it were, to the Gods.” In this way the men of olden times tried to safeguard themselves from Luciferic influences. The leaders of the Mysteries called together those who were in a sense their pupils and in their presence enacted that solemn rite at the culmination of which the thoughts that had been revealed by the Upper Gods were now offered up to them in upward-streaming feelings.
The external rite consisted in solemn words being spoken into rising smoke which was thus set into waves. This act was merely meant to signify that the offering made by man's inmost soul to the Upper Gods was being inscribed into an outer medium — the rising smoke — through form-creating words. The words of the prayer inscribed into the rising smoke the feelings which the soul desired to send upwards to the Gods as an offering for the thoughts they had revealed.
This was the basic mood of soul underlying the celebration of the Midsummer Mysteries. These Midsummer festivals had meaning only as long as men received their thoughts by way of revelation.
But in the centuries immediately preceding the Mystery of Golgotha — beginning as early as the 8th and 9th centuries B.C. — these thoughts that were revealed from above grew dark, and more and more there awakened in man the faculty to acquire his thoughts through his own efforts. This induced in him an entirely different mood. Whereas formerly he had felt that his thoughts were coming to him as it were from the far spaces of the universe, descending into his inner life, he now began to feel the thoughts as something unfolding within himself, belonging to him like the blood in his veins. In olden times, thoughts had been regarded more as something belonging to man like the breath — the breath that is received from the surrounding atmosphere and continually given back again. Just as man regards the air as something which surrounds him, which he draws into himself but always gives out again, so did he feel his thoughts as something which he did not draw into himself but which was received by him through revelation and must ever and again be given back to the Gods at the time of Midsummer.
The festivals themselves were given a dramatic form in keeping with this attitude. The leaders of the Mysteries went to the ceremonies bearing the symbols of wisdom; and as they conducted the sacrificial rites they divested themselves of the symbols one by one. Then, when they went away from the ceremonies, having laid aside the symbols of wisdom, they appeared as men who must acquire their wisdom again in the course of the year. It was like a confession on the part of those sages of olden times. When they had made the solemn offering it was as though they declared to the masses of those who were their followers: “We have become nescient again.”
To share in this way in the course taken by the seasons of the year, entering as Midsummer approaches into the possession of wisdom, then passing into a state of nescience (Torheit) before becoming wise again — this was actually felt by men to be a means of escape from the Luciferic powers. They strove to participate in the life of the cosmos. As the cosmos lets Winter alternate with Summer, so did they let the time of wisdom alternate in themselves with the time of entry into the darkness of ignorance.
Now there were some whose wisdom was needed all the year round, and who for this reason could not act or adopt the same procedure as the others. For example, there were teachers in the Mysteries who practised the art of healing — for that too was part of the Mysteries. Naturally it would not do for a doctor to become ignorant in August and September — if I may use the present names of the months — so these men were allowed to retain their wisdom, but in return they made the sacrifice of being only servants in the Mysteries. Those who were the leaders became ignorant for a certain time every year.
Reminiscences of this have remained here and there, for example in the figure described by Goethe in his poem Die Geheimnisse as the ‘Thirteenth,’ the one who was the leader of the others but was himself in a state of dullness rather than wisdom.
All these things are evidence that the attitude towards the guiding wisdom of mankind was entirely different from what it afterwards became when men began to regard their thoughts as produced by themselves. Whereas formerly man felt that wisdom was like the air he breathes, later on he felt that his thoughts were produced within himself, like the blood. We can therefore say: In ancient times man felt his thoughts to be like the air of the breath and in the epoch of the Mystery of Golgotha he began to feel that they were like the blood within him.
But then man also said to himself: “What I experience as thought is now no longer heavenly, it is no longer something that has descended from above. It is something that arises in the human being himself, something that is earthly.” — This feeling that the thoughts of men are earthly in origin was still significantly present at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha among those who were the late successors of the leaders of the ancient Mysteries. Those who stood at that time at the height of cultural life said to themselves: Man can no longer have such thoughts as had the sages of old, who with their thoughts lived together with the Gods; he must now develop purely human thoughts. But these purely human thoughts are in danger of falling prey to the Ahrimanic powers. The thoughts that were revealed to man from above were in danger of succumbing to the Luciferic powers; the human thoughts, the self-produced thoughts, are in danger of succumbing to the Ahrimanic powers.
Those who were capable of thinking in this way in the epoch of the Mystery of Golgotha — by the 4th century, however, the insight was lost — such men experienced the Mystery of Golgotha as the true redemption of mankind. They said to themselves: The spiritual Power indwelling the Sun could hitherto be attained only by superhuman forces. This Power must now be attained by human faculties, for man's thoughts are now within his own being. Hence he must inwardly raise these thoughts of his to the Divine. Now that he is an earthly thinker, he must permeate his thoughts inwardly with the Divine, and this he can do through uniting himself in thought and feeling with the Mystery of Golgotha.
This meant that the festival once celebrated in the Mysteries at Midsummer became a Winter festival. In Winter, when the earth envelops herself in her raiment of snow and is no longer in living interchange with the atmosphere around her, man too is fettered more strongly to the earth; he does not share in the life of the wide universe but enters into the life that is rooted beneath the soil of the earth. — But the meaning of this must be understood.
We can continually be made aware of how in the earth's environment there is not only that which comes directly from the Sun but also that which partakes in the life of the earth beneath the surface of the soil. I have spoken of this before by referring to some very simple facts. — Those of you who have lived in the country will know how the peasants dig pits in the earth during Winter and put their potatoes in them. Down there in the earth the potatoes last splendidly through the Winter, which would not be the case if they were simply put in cellars. Why is this? — Think of an area of the earth's surface. It absorbs the light and warmth of the Sun that have streamed to it during the Summer. The light and the warmth sink down, as it were, into the soil of the earth, so that in Winter the Summer is still there, under the soil. During Winter it is Summer underneath the surface of the earth. And it is this Summer under the surface of the earth in Winter time that enables the roots of the plants to thrive. The seeds become roots and growth begins. So when we see a plant growing this year it is actually being enabled to grow by the forces of last year's Sun which had penetrated into the earth.
When therefore we are looking at the root of a plant, or even at parts of the leaves, we have before us what is the previous Summer in the plant. It is only in the blossom that we have this year's Summer, for the blossom is conjured forth by the light and warmth of the present year's Sun. In the sprouting and unfolding of the plant we still have the previous year and the present year comes to manifestation only in the blossom. Even the ovary at the centre of the blossom is a product of the Winter — in reality, that is, of the previous Summer. Only what surrounds the ovary belongs to the present year. Thus do the seasons interpenetrate. When the earth dons her Winter raiment of snow, beneath that raiment is the continuation of Summer. Man does not now unite himself with the wide expanse but turns his life of soul inwards, into the interior of the earth. He turns to the Lower Gods.
This was the conception held by men who were in possession of the heritage of the ancient wisdom at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. And it was this that made them realize: It is in what is united with the earth that we must seek the power of the Christ, the power of the new wisdom which permeates the future evolution of the earth. Having passed to the stage of self-produced thoughts, man felt the need to unite these thoughts inwardly with the Divine, to permeate them inwardly with the Divine, in other words, with the Christ Impulse. This he can do at the time when he is most closely bound to the earth — in deep Winter; he can do it when the earth shuts herself off from the cosmos. For then he too is shut off from the cosmos and comes nearest to the God who descended from those far spaces and united Himself with the earth.
It is a beautiful thought to connect the Christmas festival with the time when the earth is shut off from the cosmos, when in the loneliness of earth man seeks to establish for his self-produced thoughts communion with divine-spiritual-super-sensible reality, and when, understanding what this means, he endeavors to protect himself from the Ahrimanic powers, as in ancient times he protected himself from the Luciferic powers through the rites of the Midsummer Mysteries.
And as under the guidance of the teachers in the Mysteries the man of olden time became aware through the Midsummer festival that his thoughts were fading into a state of twilight, the man of today who rightly understands the Christmas Mystery should feel strengthened when at Christmas he steeps himself in truths such as have now once more been expressed. He should feel how through developing a true relation to the Mystery of Golgotha, the thoughts he acquires in the darkness of his inner life can be illumined. For it is indeed so when he realizes that once in the course of the earth's evolution the Being who in pre-Christian ages could only be thought of as united with the Sun, passed into earthly evolution and together with mankind indwells the earth as a Spiritual Being. In contrast to the old Midsummer festivals where the aim was that a man should pass out of himself into the cosmos, the Christmas festival should be the occasion when man tries to deepen inwardly, to spiritualize, whatever knowledge he acquires about the great world.
The man of old did not feel that knowledge was his own possession but that it was a gift bestowed upon him, and every year he gave it back again. The man of today necessarily regards his world of thought, his intellectual knowledge, as his own possession. Therefore he must receive into his heart the Spirit Being who has united with the Earth; he must link his thoughts with this Being in order that instead of remaining with his thoughts in egotistic seclusion, he shall unite these thoughts of his with that Being of Sun and Earth who fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha.
In a certain respect the ancient Mysteries had what might be called an ‘aristocratic’ character. Indeed the principle of aristocracy really had its origin in those old Mysteries, for it was the priests who enacted the sacrifice on behalf of all the others.
The Christmas festival has a ‘democratic’ character. What modern men acquire as that which really makes them man, is their inner store of thoughts. And the Christmas Mystery is only truly celebrated when the one does not make the sacrificial offering for another, but when the one shares with the other a common experience: equality in face of the Sun Being who came down to the Earth. And in the early period of Christian evolution — until about the 4th century — it was this that was felt to be a particularly significant principle of Christianity. It was not until then that the old forms of the Egyptian Mysteries were resuscitated and made their way via Rome to Western Europe, overlaying the original Christianity and shrouding it in traditions which will have to be superseded if Christianity is to be rightly understood. For the character with which Christianity was invested by Rome was essentially that of the old Mysteries. In accordance with true Christianity, this finding of the spiritual-super-sensible reality in man must take place at a time not when he passes out of himself and is given up to the Cosmos, but when he is firmly within himself. And this is most of all the case when he is united with the Earth at the time when the Earth herself is shut off from the cosmic expanse — that is to say, in Midwinter.
I have thus tried to show how it came about that in the course of the ages the Midsummer festivals in the Mysteries changed into the Midwinter Christmas Mystery. But this must be understood in the right sense. By looking back over the evolution of humanity we can deepen our understanding of what is. presented to us in the Christmas Mystery. By contrasting it with olden times we can feel the importance of the fact that man has now to look within himself for the secrets he once sought to find outside his own being.
It is from this point of view that my Occult Science is written. If such a book had been written in ancient times (then, of course, it would not have been a book but something different!) the starting-point of the descriptions would have been the starry heavens. But in the book as it is, the starting-point is man: contemplation, first of the inner aspect of man's being and proceeding from there to the universe. The inner core of man's being is traced through the epochs of Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon, and extended to the future epochs of the Earth's evolution.
In seeking for knowledge of the world in ancient times, men started by contemplating the stars; then they endeavored to apply to the inner constitution of the human, being what they learned from the stars. For example, they contemplated the Sun which revealed a very great deal to the Imaginative cognition of those days. To the orthodox modern scientist the Sun is a ball of gas — which of course it cannot be for unbiased thought. When the man of ancient time contemplated the Sun externally, it was to him the bodily expression of soul-and-spirit, just as the human body is an expression of soul-and-spirit. Very much was learnt from the Sun. And when man had read in the Cosmos what the Sun had revealed to him, he could point to his own heart, and say: Now I understand the nature of the human heart, for the Sun has revealed it to me! — And similarly in the other heavenly bodies and constellations, man discovered the secrets of his organism.
It was not possible to proceed in this way in the book Occult Science. Although it is too soon yet for all the relevant details to have been worked out, the procedure is that we think, first, of the human being as a whole, with heart, lungs, and so on, and in understanding the organs individually we come to understand the universe. We study the human heart, for example, and what we read there tells us what the Sun is, tells us something about the nature of the Sun. Thus through the heart we learn to know the nature of the Sun; that is to say, we proceed from within outwards. In ancient times it was the other way about: first of all men learnt to know the nature of the Sun and then they understood the nature of the human heart. In the modern age we learn what the heart is, what the lung is ... and so, starting from man, we learn to know the universe.
The ancients could only give expression to their awareness of this relation of man to the universe by looking upwards to the Sun and the starry heavens at the time of Midsummer, when conditions were the most favorable for feeling their union with the Cosmos. But if we today would realize with inner intensity how we can come to know the universe, we must gaze into the depths of man's inner being. And the right time for this is in Midwinter, at Christmas.
Try to grasp the full meaning of this Christmas thought, my dear friends, for there is a real need today to give life again to old habits such as these. We need, for example, to be sincere again in our experience of the course of the year. All that numbers of people know today about Christmas is that it is a time for giving presents, also — perhaps, a time when in a very external way, thought is turned to the Mystery of Golgotha!
It is superficialities such as these that are really to blame for the great calamity into which human civilization has drifted today. It is there that much of the real blame must be placed; it lies in the clinging to habits, and in the unwillingness to realize the necessity of renewal — the need, for example, to imbue the true Christmas thought, the true Christmas feeling, with new life.
This impulse of renewal is needed because we can only become Man again in the true sense by finding the spiritual part of our being. It is a ‘World-Christmas’ that we need, a birth of spiritual life. Then we shall once again celebrate Christmas as honest human beings; again there will be meaning in the fact that at the time when the Earth is shrouded in her raiment of snow, we try to feel that our world of thought is permeated with the Christ Impulse — the world of thought which today is like the blood within us, in contrast to the old world of thought which was like the breath.
We must learn to live more intensely with the course of the seasons than is the custom today. About 20 years ago the idea occurred that it would be advantageous to have a fixed Easter — a festival which is still regulated by the actual course of time. The idea was that Easter should be fixed permanently at the beginning of April, so that account books might not always be thrown into confusion owing to the dates of the festival varying each year. Even man's experience of the flow of time was to be drawn into the materialistic trend of evolution. In view of other things that have happened as well, it would not be surprising if materialistic thought were ultimately to accept this arrangement. For example, men begin the year with the present New Year's Day, the 1st of January, in spite of the fact that December (decem) is the tenth month, and January and February quite obviously belong to the previous year; so that in reality the new year can begin in March at the earliest — as indeed was actually the case in Roman times. But it once pleased a French King (whom even history acknowledges to have been an imbecile) to begin the year in the middle of the Winter, on the 1st of January, and humanity has followed suit.
Strong and resolute thoughts are needed to admit honestly to ourselves that the saving of human evolution depends upon man allying himself with wisdom. Many things indicate that he has by no means always done so but has very often allied himself with ignorance, with nescience. The Christmas thought must be taken sincerely and honestly, in connection with the Being who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” But the way to the Truth and to the Life in the Spirit has to be deliberately sought, and for this it is necessary for modern humanity to plunge down into the dark depths of midnight in order to find the light that kindles itself in man.
The old tradition of the first Christmas Mass being read at midnight is not enough. Man must again realize in actual experience that what is best and most filled with light in his nature is born out of the darkness prevailing in him. The true light is born out of the darkness. And from this darkness light must be born — not further darkness.
Try to permeate the Christmas thought with the strength that will come to your souls when you feel with all intensity that the light of spiritual insight and spiritual vision must pierce the darkness of knowledge of another kind. Then in the Holy Night, Christ will be born in the heart of each one of you, and you will experience together with all mankind, a World-Christmas.